Ray Amati/NBAE via Getty
Jared Sullinger at work vs. the Brooklyn Nets on Christmas Day.The Celtics didn't have much to be proud of as they lost the final three games of their four-game road trip that concluded Sunday with a 118-96 defeat at the hands of the Sacramento Kings, but they had to feel good about the play of rookie Jared Sullinger, who emerged as one of the few (and possibly only) bright spots on an otherwise forgettable trek west.
Sullinger built off of an impressive 16-point, seven-rebound outing against the Brooklyn Nets on Christmas by averaging 8.6 points and 6.3 rebounds over the remaining three games of the trip, shooting 60 percent from the field.
With Boston losing each game by at least 18 points, the consistent effort Sullinger displayed, particularly in the paint, stood out, as he routinely emerged as a spark off the bench.
"Just playing basketball," Sullinger said before practice on Tuesday of what worked for him throughout the trip. "I think I've reached a comfort level. They actually trust me down there on the block now. They're throwing it down to me a little bit more, so I'm just trying to make plays and also just try to help the team win."
Sullinger had a number of memorable stretches over the course of the trip, including a 10-point first half against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday and an eight-point third quarter against the Kings, in which his ability to create space around the basket and draw fouls was one of the only things keeping Boston within shouting distance at that point in the game.
With the Kings sporting an 11-point lead at the 4:17 mark of the frame, Sullinger scored the next eight points for Boston -- six of which came from the free throw line -- to keep Sacramento within reach as the rest of his teammates combined to shoot 7-of-22 in the quarter. Sullinger capped off his personal run at the 1:27 mark, following up six free throws with a layup from the left block off an over-the-top pass from Rajon Rondo.
Sullinger continued to prove that he plays well with Boston's best players, specifically Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The stats show Boston has considerable success when Sullinger shares a lineup with those three players. In just more than 34 minutes of floor time this season, the only lineup featuring all four players (Courtney Lee being the fifth) has outscored opponents by 18.6 points, according to lineup data logged by Basketball Reference. Sullinger gives Garnett, Rondo and Pierce all the credit for his own success playing alongside them.
"They draw so much attention and everybody leaves No. 7 alone, and so I just capitalize on that and try to find open spots," Sullinger said. "I mean, with Paul's ability to score, Rondo's ability to create, Kevin's ability to score, they focus so hard on those guys and so everybody's head is turned to them and I just try to capitalize on that."
Capitalizing on opportunities hasn't been difficult for Sullinger all season. While his early-season production was regarded with hopeful optimism, his consistency since then has given way to newer and more demanding expectations he continues to meet.